Should I Take in a Stray Cat?
Due to the tireless work of animal rescue organizations, stray cats are often brought to shelters and adopted by loving families. However, unwanted cats still roam neighborhoods. Some of these cats are feral; others are previously-owned pets. So as the animal lover you are, when you see a cat outdoors where you live, should you take it in?
Do a Little Research to Determine if the Cat has an Owner
The first thing to do when considering taking in a stray is to make sure someone isn't out looking for them. The worst thing that could happen after you've adopted your new friend is that you find that someone has been searching tirelessly for their feline companion.
READ MORE: What to Do If Your Indoor Cat Gets Loose
Take some pictures of the cat and drive around your surrounding area to search for any lost posters. Stray cats can get around, so be sure to not limit your search to only your neighborhood.
Additionally, take the kitty to a vet's office to be scanned for a microchip. Microchips are one of the best ways to identify a pet.
It can also be a good idea to look at some local Facebook groups to see if anyone has posted about a missing cat. You may also want to post yourself, saying that you've found a cat. And be sure to alert the local animal control and animal shelters in case they get a call from the cat's owners.
If you can't find evidence of an owner, you can consider welcoming the wanderer into your home.
Challenges with Giving a Stray Cat a Home
There are two kinds of cats that you may find out and around your home; feral and stray. Feral cats are pretty easily identified. They don't want to be touched, and are afraid of people. They may come and eat food you put out, but if you approach them, they will probably run.
Previously-owned pets, or strays, are more likely to come up to you. They may shy away at first, but most will eventually allow you to pet them or pick them up. Feral cats won't adapt to living with you since they have never been socialized to humans, but a stray feline is much more likely to warm up to you and your family.
Feline Health Issues
If you find a stray cat that you want to adopt, the first thing you should do is take it to an animal clinic or rescue to be medically evaluated. Strays can carry diseases that you don't want to introduce to your home, especially if you have other pets. A veterinarian can examine your new friend and treat these medical issues:
- Feline illnesses or conditions
- Vaccinations to prevent future diseases
- Sterilization if not already done
- Elimination of fleas, mites and other parasites
A cat may not look sick, but can spread diseases to other animals and humans. Common issues with stray cats are:
- Parasites such as coccidia or giardia spread through contaminated drinking water
- Feline Leukemia (FeLV)
- AIDs (FIV)
Some diseases can't be determine by a simple evaluation and blood test, but will show up in time. Quarantining your new cat for two to three weeks will be enough time for upper respiratory infections, like feline calicivirus (FCV), or feline panleukopenia virus (FPLV) to make themselves prevalent, and keep them from spreading to other pets. In fact, quarantine is a good practice with any new cat.
"If adopting a stray cat, make sure you keep them quarantined for a few weeks to protect your other pets and your family." TWEET THIS
Cats learn socialization through practice just like people do. If a cat has been on the streets for a while, you may find that it has behavior issues. These may manifest through your interactions, scratching behaviors, or reluctance to use the litter box. Some behavioral issues may also indicate a medical issue. If this isn't the case, you will need to work and be patient with your new family friend to teach them how to behave.
Treat your new cat with gentleness, and reward the cat for good behavior. Having a scratching post will alleviate the instinct to scratch furniture. For problems interacting with other pets, try separating them and allowing them to interact for limited time periods, so they can get used to each other. Some cats take a few weeks to acclimate to new situations, possibly longer if they've been alone for a long time.
Nervous or Skittish Cat
There's no way for you to know what experiences a stray cat may have with other animals or humans. If you find that your new pet is fearful or shy, be patient. Quarantine helps here as well.
Keep the cat in a small room with nowhere to hide separate from other pets. Periodically, go in the room and visit, rewarding the cat for positive behavior. Provide an environment that a cat will enjoy, including a scratching post and soft bedding. Once the cat has acclimated to your presence, you can slowly introduce other members of your household.
Acclimating to Indoor Life
Living indoors is healthier for cats, since they don't get exposed to disease or unfriendly animals. It may be difficult to keep your adoptee inside, since they are used to living outdoors. Give your new cat time to get used to their new home, find their favorite spots, and trust you. If you do end up allowing your cat outside, ensure that vaccinations are up-to-date and you microchip them.
Cats have different personalities and needs just like people. If you do adopt a stray cat, make sure to give them time to feel comfortable and truly at home with you. Give us a call so we can check out your new pet!
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.